The field of leader development has seen rapid advances in the past few decades. There is an ever growing body of knowledge about things like what constitutes effective leadership, what styles are effective, what it takes to identify potential leaders, what it takes to develop them and so on. The global aspirations of organisations which are so strongly dependent on their ability to find the right leaders has fuelled a thriving leader development industry which is geared to meet the large scale need for leader development interventions. Unfortunately some of these standardised interventions run the risk of viewing leader development as a mechanistic rather than as a humanistic process. The role of one’s personality, one’s preferences and the very personal nature of effort involved in becoming a leader are often ignored.
Given this reality, Executive Coaching signals a great advancement in the field because it is a very personal, humanistic and deeply impactful developmental experience. The ability of such a one-to-one helping relationship to make a difference to the executive’s ability to make significant developmental progress is now well researched and documented. (see box for coaching basics)
While Executive Coaching can benefit every leader across disciplines, in this article, I would like to dwell on the special value that coaching can deliver to leaders in manufacturing. This will include the entire spectrum of manufacturing organisations ranging from Indian SMEs to global manufacturing giants located in India. All of them have leaders and all of them have certain unique challenges in developing these leaders.
It is my well-considered view that coaching as an intervention becomes invaluable for manufacturing for two important reasons:
1. Capability gap: The demands placed on existing leaders in manufacturing today far exceed the capabilities at their disposal and they therefore need help in bridging that gap.
2. Supply gap: The supply of new manufacturing leaders in the job market is far less than the demand for such leaders and therefore organisations have a need to invest in growing the available ones from within to bridge the gap
The capability gaps
When we talk about capability gaps, we are not referring to leaders in manufacturing being deficient or not having capabilities. We are talking about the fact that new demands are creating these capability gaps.
So, what is changing in manufacturing and causing these capability gaps? What are the new demands?
1. Globally aligned and competitive
A manufacturing facility is no longer operating in isolation in India. It is either part of a global supply chain or has to remain globally competitive. In addition, businesses are seeing the need for sourcing globally to remain competitive.
Whatever might be the situation, all this requires manufacturing leaders to develop a global mind-set, think and act globally. They may also need to have the ability to work in facilities outside India with a global workforce.
Coaching can certainly help manufacturing leaders recognize this need, understand where they personally stand and prepare themselves for this.
2. Managing change
Manufacturing is witnessing large scale changes in terms of the way products are designed, produced and delivered.
The biggest change is in the large scale reliance on contract labour for manufacturing. Many factories are run entirely by contract staff while others have a large percentage of contract labour in their workforce. This is a new reality.
This poses huge challenges for any manufacturing leader in terms of maintaining quality, ensuring compliance and ensuring uninterrupted deliveries.
Beyond this, manufacturing businesses find it very hard to attract good engineering talent to work for them. While some of this can be attributed to pay and brand and facilities, a lot also depends on the abilities of the leaders to make these jobs attractive.
Manufacturing businesses are also constantly reengineering their manufacturing systems and models, looking at modernization and automation, adding fresh capacities, driving large scale quality initiatives and innovation efforts. These place huge demands on manufacturing leaders. Central to this is the ability of leaders to inspire their teams to embrace and support these changes.
Coaching can help leaders develop the mind-set and skills necessary to not just manage change but champion it and make a success of it.
3. Balancing work and life demands
With rapid urbanization and spirally real estate costs, manufacturing facilities have to move far away from metropolitan centres into remote locations or the deep outskirts. This means a trade off in terms of travel time or quality of life in these locations. At a time when more and more young professionals are becoming choosy about living and working in good suburbs within metros, it is not easy for a manufacturing professional to convince his family to make these compromises. This certainly places a huge psychological burden and stress. Coaching can help manufacturing leaders resolve these dilemmas and come up with strategies to cope with these limitations in an inclusive manner.
4. Engaging with customers
Manufacturing businesses serving other businesses (B2B) need to work in a closely integrated manner with their customers. The expectation is to move from a transactional supplier relationship to a long-term strategic partner. This engagement starts right at the design and engineering stage and moves all the way down through to regular production support.
The sales and business development teams rely on those in manufacturing to have the ability to transition these relationships smoothly over a period of time.
For a large number of manufacturing leaders, building and nurturing assertive strategic relationships where they are expected to influence and succeed does not come naturally. In the coming years, manufacturing leaders will need to shed their back-office image and emerge as well-rounded leaders comfortable in the front and back end of the business.
Coaching can certainly help leaders in manufacturing develop these capabilities.
5. Meeting global benchmarks
Beyond all this, manufacturing leaders in global corporations now face an additional challenge. As their Indian facilities get integrated with their global supply chain, these global corporations are now expecting their manufacturing leaders to measure up to their global benchmarks in terms of leadership competencies. They expect a manufacturing leader in India to be as good as their leaders in Germany or China or Brazil or France.
6. Having high personal standards
In my job as the Regional HR Head of an international bank, my team and I used to have great trouble dealing with one of the bank Tellers. She used to always fight and complain about even the small things and we always used to wonder why she was giving us such a hard time. Interestingly, she was the most sought after Teller and many high net worth individuals used to come looking for her because her service delivery was outstanding. For some time, I used to see this as a contradiction, almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Only later did I realize that her behaviour was actually very consistent and congruent. She was giving the best and demanding the best. Many Leaders in Manufacturing don’t seem to make tough demands and place high expectations from their environment including employees, vendors, suppliers and their own support functions. Many operate with a limiting belief that they cannot demand things just the way they cannot demand anything from civic authorities. Unless manufacturing Leaders push their team members, their workmen and their suppliers to achieve excellence they may fall behind in terms of competitiveness.
7. Demonstrating executive presence
While Indian leaders might do fairly well on technical and some functional aspects, they tend to lose out on some of the leadership and personality dimensions. The inability to have a certain stature and executive presence ranks upper most in the list of deficiencies. Many Indian manufacturing leaders had seldom paid attention to this area as long as they were India centric. Things have now changed.
Coaching can help leaders recognize this need and put together a plan to develop this little understood leadership expectation.
The supply gap
We have so far examined the new demands being placed on manufacturing leaders and how coaching can help address these demands.
We will now turn to examining the other question of supply gaps. In other words, how can coaching help develop leaders from within given the challenge of limited supply and the overall inability of manufacturing to attract great talent.
During the last two decades, the brightest of minds have moved away from Manufacturing as a career towards more lucrative opportunities in the service industry. As a result the industry has been left grappling with some of the most complex challenges without access to the best talent.
Unfortunately, many business leaders chose to take a safe route to address the gap by hiring diploma holders instead of taking the battle to the enemy camp.
While diploma holders have been able to grow into middle management positions quite competently, not all of them seem to have the potential to grow into leadership positions. The few with potential may need significant development investment for potential to become reality.
The good news is that in the last few years, manufacturing is regaining its glory as a potential employment source given the challenges in IT. This combined with the small pool of engineers who have chosen to come into manufacturing and the competent diploma holders form a good pool of potential leaders. But they need to be nurtured.
While external executive coaching as an intervention addresses the needs of senior leaders, it has limitations in addressing the needs of leaders at the middle levels for reasons of cost and lack of contextual knowledge and mismatch in needs. This is where internal coaching can play a huge role.
In other words, if senior leaders in manufacturing are trained to play the role of internal coaches and mentors, they will be able to contribute significantly to nurturing the scarce talent from within and groom them to take on more senior positions.
The focus of such internal coaching should be on proactively developing some of the critical competencies that can help a production manager to transform himself into a manufacturing leader.
So, what are these higher order competencies?
A Leader in Manufacturing must understand the business and how it makes money and how his role contributes to it.
They need to develop a strong commercial orientation and understand how he can drive profitability, how he needs to contribute to better working capital management and so on.
Leaders must also be concerned about building and nurturing talent within their own organisation.
Manufacturing Leaders will also need to develop a strong cross functional perspective and not think only from their narrow functional perspective.
Many have limited business communication skills and find it difficult to sell their ideas to other functions or to customers.
Many manufacturing leaders also tend to be somewhat subservient in their style and easily surrender to anyone that they think is authority. Similarly, they expect their subordinates to be subservient to them and display a directive style.
By systematically assigning coaches and mentors to promising talent within manufacturing early on, it is possible for business leaders to build a strong pipeline of manufacturing leaders.
It must be pointed out that coaching is not a silver bullet to cure all ills. It is also not the only way to tackle these problems. However, when used in conjunction with other developmental interventions, it can make a profound contribution to developing strong manufacturing leaders in India.
In a globally integrated world, it is not the access to technology or raw materials that will determine the competitiveness of Indian manufacturing. All these are easy to obtain. It is the quality of our leaders that will truly determine our growth and competitiveness.
Ganesh Chella is the founder of totus consulting, a strategic HR Consulting firm and totus HR School an institution that promotes HR capability building. He is also the Vice-Chairman of CFI, India’s leading Executive Coaching institution.